Monday, September 1, 2014

Hiking with Kids: Wheeler Cirque Bristlecone Grove

As I've mentioned in a previous post, I've had bristlecones on my mind a lot this summer. One of my trips up to see these old, high-elevation trees was back in early July. There's a lovely bristlecone grove accessible via a 1.5-mile (one-way) hike in Great Basin National Park, along the aptly-named Bristlecone Trail. We decided it would be a great destination for six kids and four adults. But before we started, we had better stretch!

One of the keys to having kids enjoy the hike is to make it a game. Apparently balancing was a major part of the game, because as I looked back at the photos, I saw the kids were really enjoying it.

We had planned to eat lunch at the bristlecone grove, but based on the level of whininess (that's a word, right?), we adapted and changed our plans to eat lunch at Teresa Lake (0.7 miles from the trailhead, or about an hour away at our speed). Water is always appealing to kids, especially when we told them they could go swimming! They quickly figured out that it was very cold water for swimming, but that didn't stop them from hanging out at the edge.

Rested up and fed, we continued our hike to the bristlecones.

Meeting up with Ranger Carolyn provided a nice rest break and photo op.

The trail is stunning, with great views as you get closer and closer to the glacial moraine where the bristlecones live on the Prospect Mountain quartzite (most old bristlecone groves live on dolomite or limestone, so this grove is a bit different).

Heading up a switchback.

And then we were there! We saw cool bristlecones all around.

The kids weren't interested in the bristlecones, but instead the prize we had promised: doing their nails. Whatever it takes!

I left them to walk the short interpretive trail and visit some trees over 3,000 years old. One of the oldest trees in the world, Prometheus, at about 5,000 years old, was found near here, but many scientists think it was an outlier, as they haven't been able to find any others in the area over 4,000 years old. Nevertheless, living 3,000 years is still amazing. And once a tree dies, its wood can remain intact for thousands of years more.

The reason that bristlecones can live so long is that most of the tree dies after time. A narrow strip of bark supports just a small section of life on the tree. Meanwhile, wind and precipitation shape the remaining dead bark into fascinating forms.

Although the kids weren't interested in the interpretive trail, they still did think the bristlecones were pretty cool. They took time to touch the needles, which can remain on the tree up to an amazing 45 years.

After a big snack, it was time to head back. We had another motivator: ice cream at the Lehman Caves Cafe. But we had to move fast to make it in time.

Fortunately we got there about five minutes before closing and they were kind enough to smile and make something for all of us. That sure put smiles on our faces! What a great hike.

Friday, August 29, 2014

White Pine County Fair-2014

 White Pine County Fair is held in mid-August each year, usually right after school starts for us (which makes it a little challenging!). I took the kids in Friday to enter projects (it's a very short fair, just Friday to Sunday).  In the evening we went to the delicious Cattlewoman's BBQ and stayed for the dance. The kids had a super time dancing.

The next morning we got to the fair just in time to see the cousins showing their steers. They've put a lot of time and energy into raising these steers, so it was cool seeing how well they've done.

At 10 am they opened the exhibit hall doors, and Desert Boy couldn't wait to see how he had done on his projects. We had had a talk beforehand about ribbons, and he had decided he wanted Grand Champion. I told him very few grand champions were awarded, so he shouldn't expect one as this was only the second year he had entered projects in the fair, and only the best of the best got grand champions. His various arts and crafts projects (string art, pottery, legos, wall hangings) won blue and red ribbons.

Then we went over to look at how his photos had done, and were astounded to see that he had won both Grand and Reserve Grand Champion ribbons for the children's division! He was so stoked! I won a Reserve Grand Champion for one of my night sky photos, so I was delighted. Desert Boy made sure to let me know that he had beat me. I guess he might be a wee bit competitive.

Later we wandered around the booths, buying food, doing activities, and chatting.

Desert Girl was very excited to see Smokey Bear.

We went back over to the animals and watched rabbit and chicken judging, something I had never seen before. I learned that market rabbits are supposed to weigh 3 to 5 pounds each, and since there are three of them, they are all supposed to be the same size. These white ones won Grand Champion. While we were watching, I got into a conversation with the lady next to me about chickens, and one thing led to another (keep reading!).

 Another highlight of the fair was the climbing wall. I asked the climbing wall guy how he went to events, and he said he had to pay to take the climbing wall to the bigger events, but for small ones like the fair, they paid him to come. Plus he charged money for the climbers, so he has a pretty good business. Desert Boy loved scampering up.

I had to take a turn too. And one wall even had a timer so you could see how fast you went up. (Now who's being competitive? ha)

We had to stay until Sunday afternoon to pick up our projects. What sweetened the wait was that we had bought the grand champion rooster and a couple hens. Yahoo, we're back to having chickens! 

Hopefully we will be more successful keeping these chickens away from predators and maybe even get an egg someday! For now, we sure like hearing the cock-a-doodle-doos every morning and watching the birds.

We're already setting aside the kids' artwork for next year's fair. That makes it so much easier when it comes time to look for entries. They love it, too, when I tell them something they created might be good enough to enter in the fair.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

White Pine Public Museum, Ely, Nevada

One of our favorite places to stop at when we go to Ely, Nevada is the White Pine Public Museum. The museum front isn't very large and there's no parking lot, so it's easy to miss, but it's right on main street at 2000 Aultman Ave., so you don't even have to go out of your way. One of the things we like best about it is that every time we see something different. There are so many details that you can't absorb them all in just one visit, especially if you have fast-moving kids with you. 

When we had family visit in July, it was the perfect time to stop in. 

The museum advertises its Cave Bear. And it is spectacular.
Two bear skeletons were found in a local cave, which sure shows that the fauna in the area was quite a bit different! The giant short-faced bear  (Arctodus simus) was quite a bit larger than today's grizzly bears. The museum shows a model of one of the cave bears. 

 Near the cave bear was one of the kids' favorite exhibits, an interactive paleontology table where they could uncover part of an ichthyosaur, Nevada's state fossil.

This little guy really liked the video of explosions at the mine.

And Desert Girl pointed to an animal case and said, "I know crows."

Then it was time to head outside to the one-room school house from Baker, Nevada.

The kids thought it was great fun to pretend they were in school. Well, for about five minutes.

We checked out the Cherry Creek depot, the old caboose, and this massive mining car.

Some of the exhibits aren't too impressive, like these old, rusty wheelbarrows. You can never have too many, right? (I think the museum has seven.) I guess it's hard to turn down donations.

Outside by the beautiful mural, the kids spent some time in jail.

The museum doesn't have the most up-to-date, techno gadgety exhibits, but it is a lot of fun. Entrance is by donation and hours are variable (but it's usually open in the middle of the day on weekends and some weekdays). You can learn more at the White Pine Public Museum website.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Nevada Bat Blitz

The Nevada Department of Wildlife holds an annual Bat Blitz to survey bats in an area. This year it was centered at Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, and I was delighted to be able to attend. In order to handle the bats, you have to get rabies shots, three of them, which I did. They are very similar to the regular flu shot.

Our first night was rained out, so we didn't get to put up the mist nets, but the second night we did, right where we were camping, at Hobart Reservoir. We had some triple high mist nets, which were very interesting to set up and see how they worked. The particular net below stretched across the reservoir outlet. After we set them up, we closed the nets (tied them shut) so that birds wouldn't fly into them.

Once it got dark, we opened the nets and waited. The nets I was at didn't catch anything, but the one at the outlet did quite well, and a couple bats were brought to our group so we could take a closer look.

The folks from NDOW were impressive with all their bat knowledge. I tried to soak up as much information as I could, such as how to tell an adult from a juvenile by shining your light through the wing.

With our nets still not catching anything, I wandered over to the other group, where I found a net caught in the net and biologists working to untangle it.

They were so kind and let me do the workup for the bat, which included checking its gender and age. I ran through a dichotomous key to figure out what it was.

We also weighed and measured it.

It was a lot of fun, and even though I was worried about staying up late, sugar and caffeine did the trick.

The next day we went on a pika training up near the Mount Rose summit. I had never been in this area and was fascinated with the different trees and plants. The western part of Nevada is so different than the eastern part!

A few folks saw pika, and although I saw some movement, I can't say I definitively saw one. I did see pika scat and haystacks, piles of cut grass that they eat during the winter. I guess I'll have to go back!

The next night we were looking for our next site when Bryan caught a rubber boa, which Meg is showing off below. It's a rare sighting.

Then we put up nets and waited for it to get dark. Right after sunset we caught a bunch of bats, but then it tapered off. I got some practice freeing bats from the net.

The moon rose and was quite bright. We also watched some distant thunderstorms.

Since the bats were slow, we played around a bit with long exposures and painting. If you can't find a bat, make one!

Just a handful of folks who were at Bat Blitz 2014. It was a great experience, and I'm very thankful to all the biologists who shared their knowledge.
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